Diving in Curaçao
by Tab Hauser
Curaçao is an island of 180,000 people. It is 40 miles long and 3 to 5 miles wide, sitting in the Caribbean 40 miles north of Venezuela and 48 miles east of Aruba. It is a windward island of the Netherlands Antilles.
Recently an assorted group of middle-aged men spent 5 days on a "soft" adventure trip. Our goal was to get away from work, our significant others and some of our responsibilities. The reason we came here to Curaçao was to dive, go ATVing (quad biking as it is sometimes called), wave running, fishing, hiking and taking an occasional nap at the pool.
I picked Habitat Curaçao Hotel as our place to stay because it is known as a dive destination. They advertise 24 hour dive freedom. And the dive staff is where Habitat Curaçao shines. Ann-Marie runs the dive operation very well. She is friendly, attentive and after the day is over, happy to chat about diving over a beer.
Two people run the dive boat. They were friendly and their dive briefing was accurate and informative. Each one took turns leading anyone that wanted to follow them below the surface. About half the divers on the boat trip set their own profile and went on their own. Of the 4 boat dives, we followed the leader for about half of some of the dives and finished on our own the second half. One thing all divers were advised on was to surface in one hour as a courtesy to others. There was no speech on coming up with low air or penalties for going too deep. Here, they emphasized knowing the limits on your own. To me this was a refreshing way to dive. I have been to resorts where they want you near the boat with about 1000 psi (70 bar) and on the boat with 500 psi (35 bar). I know of times where one person in a mandatory guided group made the others come up 20 minutes early because they sucked their air too fast.
Our group did 2 morning boat dives. The destinations included Rediho City, Pelican Beach, Mushroom Forest and Harryís Hole. What we saw on these dives were beautiful coral formations and lots of small tropical fish. At Mushroom Forest we did swim with a friendly, 2-foot long, turtle. With the exception of Mushroom Forest, navigation was very easy. You simply hugged the wall in one direction and then came back in the other. Mushroom is on flatter area where we stayed at about 40 feet (12 m). Here we swam in large circle coming up once to check out the boatís location (which moved due to its mooring breaking away).
At Harryís Hole our group came back to the boat with a little more air than expected. We enjoyed the extra 10 minutes swimming around all the soft corals and sand patches under and near the boat at 20 to 25 feet (6-7 m) below because of all the small fish activity. It was here I spotted a juvenile spotted drum fish swimming back and forth with what must have been 100 newly hatched fish around it under a small ledge. It was easy to photograph this fish as it ignored me while my camera was no more than 18 inches (45 cm) away. I also set the simple digital camera I was using to video and filmed it for about a minute.
Habitat House Reef
What is nice about the house reef at Habitat is that is beautiful, easy to dive and you can not get lost. Starting from their recently updated diving dock there is a rope that goes straight out to 90 feet. Our plan for all shore dives would be to follow the rope to a specific agreed upon depth. We would then go 20 to 25 minutes in one directions raise our depth 10 feet (3 m) or so and go back until we reached the rope.
During the dive we would see plenty of hard coral all along the wall. The wall was so heavy with the different corals that there would be no sandy areas until you got to around 25 feet (7 m). The reef had plenty of fish. The two largest creatures we saw here was a grouper about 2 feet (60 cm) and a green eel that had a head nearly a foot long head (30 cm). It probably was once of the largest eels I have seen in my 17 years of diving. Each dive we did here included a safety stop by swimming in the shallow area near the moored dive boat looking for the elusive frog fish that hung out in a specific area. Unfortunately we did not find it. The shallow area ranged 15 feet on the top of the wall to nine meet in the middle of the flats and offered lots of soft coral an anemones to view.
On our last night our group did a midnight dive. For 2 of the group it was their first night dive. The rope, calm seas, no currents and full moon made it pleasant experience seeing several fish sleeping in holes. One group from upstate New York did a few sunrise dives at 6:15AM to view the day fish waking up and the night fish finding places to sleep.
Water temperature for our spring trip was 80 oF (27 oC) with visibility of about 75 feet (22 m). All mornings had calm seas and the boat rides to the first reefs were 20 to 30 minutes with the second stop 15 minutes closer to the hotel. Our routine for to the first two days was a 2 tank boat dive, followed by lunch, lounging by the pool and then a late afternoon shore dive.
If you are staying at the Habitat Curaçao Hotel you can also dive the house reef at Ocean Encounters further west. Both hotels have reciprocal agreements for their guests.
Prices for shore diving is $24 per day (2006). A 2 tank boat dive is $55 and includes all the shore diving you can do. Rates include tanks and weights. Lights for night diving is $2 plus $9 to buy a 4 pack of C batteries. (If you go, bring batteries).
Habitat Curaçao is about 25 minutes from the airport. The down side to it is that it is a 40 minute ride into town. The upside is that Habitat Curaçaoís house reef is beautiful. For an ocean view room request in advance the upstairs rooms as it has a better view and more privacy. Our opinion of the place was mixed. The rooms were nice enough. They did not clean them all the time or that well and the only way I got shampoo was taking it off the cart the next to last day as they said it was not always available. The bathroom was basic but shower pressure was not good when more than a few people took showers in your building (like after a dive boat came in). Also, hot water was also not constant. Each room came with a small refrigerator and 2 burner stove. There is a complimentary shuttle 3 times a day that goes into town with pick ups twice a day. Taxis can be arranged for about $30. Information is at http://www.habitatcuracaoresort.com/
Food at the hotel was run by a different company, but was no better than average. The hot breakfast buffet was $10 while the continental buffet was $6 and was basic. Lunches averaged about $15 and dinner $30 minus drinks. Service was average to below average. The waitress staff could use a bit of polishing and in some cases seemed lazy. The restaurant and hotels center piece of attraction was its bar. Drinks we found reasonably priced.
Non-Diving Activity: ATVs, Fishing, Sight-Seeing
After doing a mid-morning dive on our third day we headed to Ericís ATV Adventures (Quadbiking). To get there we took our van to the east side of the island just past the Sea Aquarium. Here, Eric had six yellow and red Honda ATVís waiting for us. We were showed a map of where we were heading. After going through the safety briefing, we donned helmets and then practiced in the dirt parking lot a few minutes before it was off on our adventure.
Eric picks up the tab for refreshments half-way round. The choice he recommended was a chilled aloe drink that was quite refreshing and quenched our parched throats. We also all tasted an aloe wine that none of us wine lovers in the group would run out and get. If they sold the all natural aloe drink in the States, though, I would not hesitate to buy it.
It is important to know that handling an ATV is not like driving a car but closer to a motorcycle. Driving it requires shifting from a clutch less transmission. In some ways it is like driving a motorcycle with 4 wheels. You need to be relatively coordinated and realize you just can not speed recklessly about or you can get hurt from hitting a rut or hole. Eric in a few of the difficult areas did stop and advise our group what gear to be in and reminded us to be cautious. Our group had some experience in ATVís riding in the rain forest of Dominica and the desert of the Baja so was given a little extra liberty with the machine and trails. If you go and are not experienced, tell him and he will make a trail catered to what is the best and safest for your needs. Lastly, Eric had us stay on trails and not bushwhack around ruining the land. For more information on Ericís ATV adventure go to http://www.Curaçao-atv.com/
We also chartered two fishing boats from Edís Fishing - www.caribbean-fishing.com
I highly recommend seeing the town as Willstad is a busy bustling center. It is here you will find some of the best old Dutch architecture on this side of the Atlantic. Due to our limited time we only saw Temple Mikve Israel - Emanuel, the floating fruit and vegetable market and enjoyed seeing the locals go about their business among the pretty buildings while having lunch. Temple Mikve Israel - Emanuel is the oldest continuously used synagogue in the western hemisphere. If we had another day or so I would consider a walking tour to learn about the history and buildings here.
Curaçao is not just another pretty Caribbean island devoted to weekly tourists and daily cruise boaters. It is a working island devoted to industry, trade and oil refinement. It is not the most scenic of islands I have visited in the Caribbean compared to St. Lucia, Dominica, Tortola and others, yet it is a place I am glad to have visited for what it did offer. We found the people nice and the diving excellent.
Had we spent a few more days here we would have gone hiking in one of the national parks and perhaps hit a few of the beaches on and off the main roads. There are some newer hotels near the dive spots. If we come back we would probably shop for a different hotel on the same side of the island just for a change. The Habitat Curaçaoís is a pleasant enough place but it is all about diving here. As a dive destination I give it 5 stars. As a hotel / resort I give the place 3 stars. If they put a some extra effort into a few things like better showers, cleaner rooms and amenities to name a few things as well as improved the food and service I would have given them another star. For information on just about everything you need on the island go to http://www.Curacao.com/--
Tab Hauser is a free lance writer / photographer who has contributed articles in trade magazines and local newspapers on business, travel and community events.
This article has been abridged. For the full version, with photographs, see http://www.tabhauser.com/
by Tab Hauser
Habitat Curaçao Resort
Rif St. Marie
Tel: (5999) 864 8304
Fax: (5999) 864 8464
- Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas
- by Paul Humann, New World Publications, 2013
Excellent for fish identification in the Caribbean.
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